The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing
Original titleThe Cloude of Unknowyng
LanguageMiddle English
SubjectSpiritual guide to contemplative prayer
GenreChristian mysticism
Publication date
Late 14th century
Followed byThe Book of Privy Counseling

The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The underlying message of this work suggests that the way to know God is to abandon consideration of God's particular activities and attributes, and be courageous enough to surrender one's mind and ego to the realm of "unknowing", at which point one may begin to glimpse the nature of God.


The Cloud of Unknowing draws on the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Christian Neoplatonism,[1] which focuses on the via negativa road to discovering God as a pure entity, beyond any capacity of mental conception and so without any definitive image or form. This tradition has reputedly inspired generations of mystical searchers from John Scotus Eriugena, Nicholas of Cusa, and John of the Cross, to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (the latter two of whom may have been influenced by The Cloud itself). Prior to this, the theme of The Cloud had appeared in the Confessions of St. Augustine (IX, 10) written in AD 398.[2]

The author is unknown. The English Augustinian mystic Walter Hilton has at times been suggested, but this is generally doubted.[3] It is possible he was a Carthusian priest, though this is not certain.[4]

A second major work by the same author, The Book of Privy Counseling (originally titled Prive Counselling), continues the themes discussed in the Cloud. It is less than half the size of the Cloud, appears to be the author's final work, and clarifies and deepens some of its teachings.[5] In this work, the author characterizes the practice of contemplative unknowing as worshiping God with one's "substance," coming to rest in a "naked blind feeling of being", and ultimately finding thereby that God is one's being.